GrabTaxi starts R&D centre in Bengaluru to bolster payment platforms

Grab VP (engineering) Arul Kumaravel says GrabTaxi in India will be limited to its R&D centre in Bengaluru with no plans to launch consumer-facing operations


GrabTaxi’s R&D centre in Bengaluru follows those of Apple, Target Corp, Amazon, JC Penney, Salesforce, Uber and Twitter in the city. Photo: Bloomberg
GrabTaxi’s R&D centre in Bengaluru follows those of Apple, Target Corp, Amazon, JC Penney, Salesforce, Uber and Twitter in the city. Photo: Bloomberg

Bengaluru: Singapore-based ride-hailing company GrabTaxi Holdings Pte Ltd has opened a research and development (R&D) centre in Bengaluru to bolster payment platforms, especially its mobile wallet GrabPay, a senior company executive said.

The company, however, does not plan to launch consumer-facing operations in India, said Arul Kumaravel, vice-president of engineering at Grab.

The Bengaluru centre is Grab’s sixth engineering outpost after Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Seattle in the US, Beijing in China, Jakarta in Indonesia and Singapore, its home turf.

In the next two years, Grab plans to hire 800 engineers across the six centres to work on payments, maps and ride-sharing features among others. About 200 people will be at the Bengaluru facility.

The company has hired former Freecharge executives Raghuram Trikutam as head of engineering and mobile payments and Ruchika Sharma as head of human resources.

“We are trying to keep up with the platform requirements, both from a transportation as well as payment perspective. The Bangalore centre is exciting for us because India has gone through a similar phase and seen similar problems (that exists in our existing markets). For instance, India is also mobile-first and has varying levels of infrastructure needs. It is a cash-based economy moving to a cashless economy. Our focus is to hire talent which has experience in building this kind of infrastructure,” said Kumaravel.

A mobile wallet is an important tool for companies to keep consumers glued to their platforms. While users end up transacting on multiple occasions to consume money stored in the wallets, companies can target users by offering cashbacks and crediting the money directly to their wallets.

Grab currently operates in 39 cities in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam, besides Singapore. One of the most well-funded start-ups in South-East Asia, Grab has raised about $1.4 billion since inception in 2011 from SoftBank Group Corp., Tiger Global Management and China Investment Corp., among others. In its last fundraising—a $750-million round led by SoftBank in September last year— the company was valued at $3 billion.

The company claims to have clocked 36 million app downloads and more than 700,000 drivers in its network. Indonesia and Singapore are two of the biggest markets for Grab, said Kumaravel.

Grab is part of a so-called global alliance that was formed by India’s Ola (ANI Technologies Ltd), Lyft Inc. in the US and China’s Didi Chuxing to fight the dominance of Uber Technologies Inc. The fate of the alliance is unclear after Uber sold its China business to Didi Chuxing last year.

“I would say that when you are working on a similar problem, it is often good to compare notes. In the transport business, you are building a similar product and solving a similar set of problems. You don’t want to reinvent the wheels if someone has solved the problem. That was the genesis of this. It is more like knowledge sharing. All the chief executives (of the companies in the alliance) talk regularly. I do occasionally talk to people, but it is a very informal thing,” Kumaravel said on the alliance.

India has become an attractive destination for global companies to set up engineering centres. The long list of companies that have done this includes multinationals Apple Inc., Target Corp, Amazon.com Inc., JC Penney Co. Inc, Salesforce.com Inc., Uber and Twitter Inc., as well as start-ups such as Indonesia-based Go-Jek, which is also one of Grab’s competitors.

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